Robinson's Hall of Fame journey: Green Bay to Akron to the Dawg Pound to Canton
JUL 24, 2013 10:37a ET
Dave Robinson always thought he had a Hall of Fame career.
But the former Packers linebacker had to wait 37 years. He will part of the Hall’s 50th Anniversary class when he’s inducted the first Saturday in August.
“The Hall of Fame and I started the same year,” Robinson, 72, said on a conference call. “My first year in the NFL was 1963. And my first grandchild was born Aug. 3. So we’ll celebrate his birthday and the induction the same day.”
Robinson will be presented by his son 49-year-old son David, who will speak in honor of his mother Elaine, Robinson’s wife who passed away in 2007, and his brothers Robert and Richard, also deceased.
“If I do get emotional I apologize in advance,” said Robinson, who has lived in Akron since 1979. “It’s been a long time coming and it means a lot to me. What I worry more about than my son’s speech is the unveiling of the bust for the first time. I don’t know if I can take it or not.”
Robinson calls that bust “football immortality.”
He’s most remembered for being part of a Packers team in the ‘60s that will have 12 people in the Hall -- including coach Vince Lombardi.
“There were so many guys on that team that I knew had Hall of Fame careers,” Robinson said. “In my fifth or sixth year, I started really realizing how great this team was. There are people who were on the team who are not in the Hall of Fame who were Hall of Fame quality.”
Robinson said when the Hall called to say a Packer would be the Senior Committee Nominee, he expected it to be Jerry Kramer. He would not go into why he felt he had to wait.
“I knew who I played against,” Robinson said.
He referred to Hall of Fame players like John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Jerry Smith …
“I knew I was in the same league,” he said.
Robinson earned first-team All-NFl from 1967-69, went to the Pro Bowl three times, earned a spot in the Packers Hall of Fame in 1980 and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1960s. He’s also been a member of the Hall’s Board of Directors since 1990, its secretary since 1997.
His abilities showed most in the biggest games. His interception of Gary Cuozzo of the Colts in a 1965 playoff game in Baltimore changed the momentum of a Packers win, and was at that point the longest return (88 yards) against the Colts.
The Packers went on the next week to beat the Browns in the NFL Championship Game.
“If we hadn’t won that Colts game in ‘65, there wouldn’t have been a playoff game at the end of the season,” Robinson said. And Green Bay wouldn’t have won three championships in a row in the the ‘60s.
In 1966, Green Bay played in the Championship Game at Dallas and led 34-27 with time winding down. Don Meredith led the Cowboys on a furious last-minute attempt to tie the game, and had a final chance on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Meredith rolled right, toward Robinson, who freelanced (to Lombardi’s chagrin), blitzed and was able to force a wobbly pass that was intercepted.
“If we don’t win that game Dallas goes to Super Bowl I, and the Vince Lombardi Trophy might be called the Tom Landry Trophy,” Robinson said.
Of course in Green Bay, Robinson understood that a big play only lasted so long.
“My play was one of the biggest plays in Green Bay Packers history for 364 days, from Jan. 1, 1967, to Dec. 31, 1967, when Bart Starr went in to clinch the ‘Ice Bowl’ and we went on to our second Super Bowl,” Robinson said.
Robinson loved Green Bay, loved the association between the town and the team. He loved playing for Lombardi -- he’s written three books about him -- and loved his teammates.
“Lambeau Field is the mecca of professional football,” he said. “Every player should play or coach in that stadium at some time in their career to see what pro football should be like.”
Robinson was known for his size, his speed, his smarts -- and his unusual number: 89. He said he had it since high school, where he was given it because it was the largest jersey the team had. He wore 89 as a senior at Penn State, and when he got to Green Bay as a first-round pick the equipment manager saved it for him.
Robinson also knew former Penn State assistant coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, who was a freshman when Robinson was a senior.
“I would never have thought anything like that would happen,” Robinson said. “But it was proven that he did do it. Whatever he gets he deserves.”
He remains angry that Joe Paterno was forced out, saying if legal authorities did not detect child abuse while allowing Sandusky to adopt foster children, a coach couldn’t have known.
“I do think they treated Joe unfairly,” Robinson said.
He wound up in Akron when his employed -- Schlitz beer -- transfered him to be a brewery rep. In 1984, he and two others bid on the Coors distributorship, and won. It opened in a warehouse in Akron and grew from nothing into one of the top wholesale outlets in the state.
As a football fan, Robinson bought season tickets for the Browns, and wound up watching the Brian Sipe-Kardiac Kids games in the bleachers, the area that would eventually become the Dawg Pound.
“I loved the experience in the Dawg Pound,” he said. “I think it’s a little pristine now. I liked good play, and if I saw a good play performed by the other team I might applaud it.
“As long as it wasn’t for Pittsburgh, I got away with it.”
For the ex-Packer turned Akron guy turned Dawg Pound resident, it all will come together on a summer night in Canton.
“They say wine gets sweeter with age,” Robinson said, “and this as sweet as it gets.”